Archive for October, 2009

Re-Enchanting the World

// October 28th, 2009 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff, Uncategorized

candles

The leaves are falling and the air is getting cooler. The earth is preparing for its big slumber and the days are getting shorter while the nights gets longer. These things remind us that life is not permanent and that death is, paradoxically, a part of life.

The weekend of October 31st thru Monday, November 2nd is a holy triduum in the church during which time we celebrate the folk tradition of all hallow’s eve (halloween), as well as the feasts of all saints’ day, and all souls’ day.  Through these wonderful and colorful celebrations the church ‘re-enchants’ the world in which we live and re-connects us to it in a meaningful way.  These three days give us a safe container in the liturgical calendar in which to note and mourn the passing of life even as we recommit ourselves to living fully and loving deeply. 

Tonight the Shirley’s (221 S. Edgefield) host a pumpkin carving extravaganza and Stephanie Wyatt will lead our conversation about the historical relationship between All Hallow’s Eve and All Saints/ Souls (see her meditation below). Then Sunday everyone is invited to bring photos, keepsakes, and stories as we remember together the brave souls who ignited our Christian tradition as well as loved ones and guides who are no longer with us. On Sunday morning at 10am we will build an altar together and at 11am celebrate a special Communion of Saints Service.

 
Peace to you all this day,
Courtney

 

 

Bring your keepsakes and your stories and join us at 10 am to build the altar and 11 am for our Communion of Saints Service as we memorialize death and celebrate life.

Stephanie’s Meditation on All Hallows/All Saints
 
Tonight at our Wednesday night gathering we will explore the old European traditions behind All Hallows Eve, which we know as Halloween. What we experience in the contemporary U.S. as a festive secular occasion developed out of European folk traditions of ritualizing the changing of the seasons. As pre-Christian practices became part of the liturgical calendar of the church, the recognition of days shortening and plant-life dying also became a time of remembering the dead, both the saints and martyrs of the church (All Saints Day, Nov. 1) and the loved ones of the community who had passed away (All Souls Day, Nov. 2). This period of acknowledging worlds beyond their reach served as a kind of Triduum, a three-day period of feasting and praying, of merriment and mourning, of nighttime trickery and daytime remembering.

All Hallows Eve is to All Saints and All Souls much like Mardi Gras is to Ash Wednesday.

As humans we need help with transitions. Social customs and religious rituals help us navigate the scary space between the known and the unknown. Rather than hiding from the change from fall to winter, the tradition of All Hallows embraced and even reveled in the crisp evening air. Rather than pushing away the shadowy figures and things that could go bump in the night, neighbors welcomed visitors who came knocking on their doors and delighted in the things that could frighten them by creating costumes and wearing masques. Instead of pushing away a world beyond their understanding, they transformed their anxieties by making the strange familiar and laughing at the things they could not control.
 
On Sunday we will put a Church in the Cliff spin on All Saints Day. As has become common practice in Protestant churches, we will collapse the distinction between saints and souls, honoring all of the beloveds who are no longer with us. We will extend our understanding of “saints” by including all those who have inspired us and helped us live more fully into God’s calling, whether we came to know them in person, through a well-played album, or on the page of a favorite book. Inspired by the Latin American traditions surrounding All Souls Day (Dia de los Muertos), we will commemorate our loved ones with colorful fabric, candles, and communion. We invite you to bring pictures and mementos of relatives, friends, mentors, and inspirational figures who are no longer with us. On Sunday morning beginning at 10am we will build an altar together that remembers and gives thanks to God for their lives.

Desires in the Darkness

// October 21st, 2009 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff, Uncategorized

They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

From the Gospel of Mark, chapter ten, 46-52

Often what stands out about people in Bible stories is not their virtue but their very strong wants. Makes me wonder—do our desires propel us in ways that God can use? 

Bartimaeus wanted to see. In fact, the scripture reveals that he wanted to see again suggesting that at some time previously he had been able to see and had lost his vision. He wanted sight badly -so badly that it made him bold.  It almost makes your stomach hurt, picturing the intensity of this scene: A teacher at the center of a throng of people on their way out of town and a vulnerable, blind beggar  on the curb, hearing the commotion, figuring out who it is and shouting out with desperation: “Jesus, have mercy on me.” A better translation from the Greek doesn’t really work in English but it would be more active— something like “Jesus ‘mercify’ me” or “Jesus do  something.”

And then the silencing began. People (could have been disciples, could be the crowd, could be both) told this beggar to keep it to himself. And after a couple of rounds of this Jesus does something interesting—he stands still. I imagine as Jesus stopped walking those around stopped walking too. And in the stillness a quiet space opens up and into that quiet Jesus speaks– over, under, through, and around the crowd to the man whose voice he hears but who he cannot yet see.  And Jesus invites him closer.  Then right there in a dusty side street of Jericho we are told that this cry of need is transformed to a glimpse of God’s healing activity as Bartimaeus is brought out of darkness and into light. And promptly gets up and follows Jesus.

We often talk about discipleship as a journey. I think it also can be described as a dance. We name our desire, we take responsibility for what we most want and let loose with a loud cry to be heard–trusting God, or the Great Beyond, to take it from there. And I believe the Holy Spirit consistently hears us, calls us closer, and helps us step from darkness into light. Not once in a lifetime but again, and again, and again. This is the dance of faith.

Join us this week for a conversation about our blindness, wants, and the healing balm offered on the Jesus Way.

Peace to you all this rainy day,

Courtney

 

Hungry People

// October 14th, 2009 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff, Uncategorized

I require a lot of snacks. Do you? Something about this phase of my life:  little ones who require a lot of attention, nursing, interrupted sleep, balancing an strong desire to create a more just universe with the concrete limitations of what I’m able to tackle each day. I imagine many of you can relate– whether you have kiddos or not. Come to think of it, I required a lot of snacks in graduate school, and in the peace corps, and college, and pretty much always.
Food is important, right? Little treats: dark chocolate, warm coffee, nourishing red lentil soup, my husband’s sautéed chard with ginger. These are critical. CRITICAL. to my quality of life right now. Little oases of comfort and sensory pleasure in a day where I sometimes feel that I give more than I get.
So this morning, I’m thinking about hungry folks in our city. How to live a good life without ready access to food? And not just any food-good food, the food you want to eat, when you want to eat it.
Richie works for the
North Texas Food Bank and I asked him about hunger last night, as this is Bread for the World Sunday. He said that there are a lot of common misconceptions about hunger-people think that no one goes hungry in a country as wealthy as ours. Or they think that only the homeless are vulnerable to hunger. He told me about hungry kiddos, and hungry old people, and hungry mamas, and hungry singles and about spaces in our city called ‘nutrient deserts’ because the only ‘food’ available is sold at the convenience store.
At Church in the Cliff, we have many people who care about hungry people. Michael Connell feeds about 200 of them through the
BACH program every Saturday. Lisa and Scott Shirley have maintained a relationship between our congregation and the Good Shepherd Community Center for months so that we can continue to support working families in West Dallas.
This week as we meditate on Mark 10:35-45, Jesus’ homily on servant leadership, I invite you to notice your own hunger as a spiritual practice.  If you choose to abstain from a snack, I hope you will bring the money you save to church this week for our special offering for the food pantry of the Good Shepherd.  Or go ahead and eat the snack, but bring some money too.
Peace and Grace to  you all,
Courtney

Giving It Away: Money and God-Talk

// October 7th, 2009 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff, Uncategorized

This season as the leaves fall and reveal the beauty of the bare branch it seems a good time to talk about stripping away non essentials. The lectionary points us to a passage in Mark 10:17-31 where Jesus directs a wealthy questioner to sell everything, (everything!), give the money to the poor, and travel with the movement.
This story has a hold on me. Often I long for the simplicity of the monastic lifestyle where one can do work in community, pray, eat, sleep, care for others and not have to make hard decisions about money (because everything is held in a common purse).  But this is not the life that I have chosen. So instead I wrestle, like many of us, with complex value judgments about cash, where and how to spend it and how my choices jive, or don’t, with my path as a disciple of Jesus.
While living in Boston I had the opportunity to learn from a network of Christians who are living these questions. The Boston Faith & Justice Network is committed to alleviating poverty and promoting just stewardship. They believe that over-consumption and unjust consumption may just be emptying our bank accounts, exhausting the world’s dearest resources, and fueling the exploitation of the most vulnerable. Something must change inside our souls and in our communities to set things right. So, together, they are taking these steps.

1. Live Gratefully. Many of us have lost track of how much is actually enough. We make promises to buy less, but these promises are hard to keep. The BFJN organizes small groups that support each other in spending less, buying justly, and giving collectively. It all begins with giving thanks.
2. Change our Community. All around us, advertising urges “buy more!” What if our community reflected a different set of values: respect and dignity for people and creation. The BFJN is seeking to make ours a more just community, starting by increasing Fair Trade in neighborhoods throughout Boston and beyond.
3. Advocate. Good policies enable people to steward and enjoy God’s blessings together. Good policies include the interests of those who are the poor at the highest levels of decision-making – not just those who are rich and powerful. The BFJN partners with organizations like the Micah Challenge to advocate for policies we believe will make a difference in the lives of those who are poor.”                                                       

I appreciate that step one is gratitude. And that step two is linked to small daily choices, like buying fair trade coffee. So how does this connect with our scripture verse for the day? The short answer is I don’t know. In fact, not only do I not know, I think I am actively confused. Because on the one hand, maybe this is a scripture worthy of a literal interpretation. Maybe more of us should give all, or almost all, of our money away. (Check out Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s article on just this-an “alternate investment plan” in which folks give money away and rely on God’s abundance in very concrete ways.) But on the other hand, I’m not sure all of us are called to these extremes. Rather, some of us may be called to the messy work of trying to live faithfully in a consumer-driven world. This involves recognizing and trying to limit our participation in a broken model and seeking out and supporting better alternatives like fair trade certification and working to make them accessible to more of our peers.
At any rate, I am so thankful for this community as a space to continue to live these questions. Join me tonight and Sunday for what I am sure will be a lively conversation.

Peace to you
Courtney

Further thoughts: Divorce, children and the Garden of Eden

// October 5th, 2009 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff, Uncategorized

I love the creation stories, so my spidey senses start tingling whenever I see a reference.  As we were talking on Sunday, particularly when Anne spoke of the wholeness that God desires, I started noticing that this passage in Mark could be one of those references.

In How to Read the Jewish Bible, Marc Zvi Brettler makes the case that the story of the Fall originally functioned as an etiological tale about mortality and as a coming of age myth.  In short, if we can reproduce, we must also die.  A part of growing up is realizing that everything has its end and that we are distinct from the world around us.  In the Fall, in growing up, we begin to divide the world, to label, categorize and quantify the world for easy manipulation.  “The man shall rule over the woman.”  Our relationship with the earth is no longer the love of beauty and the trust of abundance, but a thing that we work for our own benefit.  Relationship is the way we erase those boundaries and find transcendence, if only briefly.

In Mark’s account of Jesus’ teaching on divorce and the subsequent passage about welcoming the children, it seems like a reversal of the fall, a recapitulation of the unity God intends for our lives.   Jesus explicitly references the Garden narrative in the division of humanity and the union of relationship.  Mark then turns immediately to the episode with the children.  The disciples try to turn them away; they are of no use to Jesus.  But Jesus welcomes them and tells us that “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”  Those who have their innocence, who have not learned to divide the world for control, are the ones who know the kingdom of God.

God’s realm is the realm of unity in relationship, but the world is fallen.  We can trust and hope and love.  We can have concern for others that doesn’t start with concern for ourselves.  And all the time, we know it is treacherous because the world is fallen.  In that vulnerability of trust and hope and love, there is danger and sometimes things don’t work out.  The trick — and I offer no solution here — is to keep the innocence of a child, to be willing to dive into relationship with all we are.

As is often the case, Regina Spektor lyrics seem like an appropriate way to close:

This is how it works
You’re young until you’re not
You love until you don’t
You try until you can’t

You laugh until you cry
You cry until you laugh
And everyone must breathe
Until their dying breath

No, this is how it works
You peer inside yourself
You take the things you like
And try to love the things you took

And then you take that love you made
And stick it into some
Someone else’s heart
Pumping someone else’s blood

And walking arm in arm
You hope it don’t get harmed
But even if it does
You’ll just do it all again

Peace,

Scott